Saturday, December 29, 2012

Vincent sought continuous improvement

I had the great fortune of seeing the "Becoming Vincent" exhibit at the Denver Art Museum and was truly moved. I've always been drawn to the Impressionists, and Van Gogh has been a favorite. However, I wasn't moved simply because of Van Gogh's incredible use of line, color, and light. It was because Vincent constantly sought to improve upon his work. 

He continually integrated new ideas into his work. From his dark pastoral scenes in Holland, he started adding brighter colors when he went to Paris. After viewing prints from Japan, he explored the lines and shapes similar to visually appealing prints. After being criticized for how poorly he drew the human form, he practiced until it became natural.

Vincent Van Gogh understood the importance of practice in his painting. As he wrote to his brother Theo: "As practice makes perfect, I cannot but make progress; each drawing one makes, each study one paints, is a step forward." Vincent was motivated to continuous improvement, an understood that practice and stretching oneself, through exploring different styles and ideas, was one path.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Feedback on the small

We’re at the end of the year… and given that December 21 is more than half-way done, I’m relatively confident that no apocalypse will keep me from seeing 2013. As with many people, I take some time at the end of the year to evaluate how I’ve done, and what I want to change going into the new year.

But I’ve been thinking about smaller feedback loops recently. I got a bread-maker as an early Christmas gift (I think my husband and sons were anxious to enjoy the results!), and have discovered that I need to evaluate and adjust every recipe that we make – the joys of living at high altitude.

So, I’m taking notes on how much more water or less yeast I need. One loaf worked quite well – almost too well! So I’m starting with the adjustments from there. A tablespoon more water, an eighth of a teaspoon less yeast, less flour, more salt… you get the idea I’m sure. I’m currently tracking all these changes in pencil on the recipes I’m using. I’ll get it right eventually, I’m sure.

In cooking, you can see the results, and get the feedback, almost immediately. How come I have trouble remembering to evaluate my coding work? The sprint’s daily progress? The most recent teachable moment? We don't need to wait for the retrospective, or even the daily stand-up, to assess our work, as a team or an individual.

What are the comments, sensations, and reactions in your daily life that provide the same feedback as that first bite of fresh-baked bread? How do we keep track of the incremental improvements? Some possible reflections:

“That conversation went well. I remembered to listen to the end of the sentence.”
“My unit tests got further when I added an init() method.”
“This sprint seems to be going better than the last one. We decided to start ‘walking the board’ in stand-up and now everyone knows exactly what’s going on.”
“The team is more open in appreciating each other’s contributions. I wonder if that’s a result of the appreciations part of our last two retrospectives.”

Happy New Year! May you find feedback where you need it, as well as the quick, agile adjustments to get the most out of that feedback.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Trust and vulnerability

The snake, Kaa, in The Jungle Book, sings a song to Mowgli: “Trust in me, just in me, Shut your eyes and trust in me, You can sleep safe and sound, Knowing I am around.” Now, we all know that Kaa really isn’t to be trusted. We know it usually takes more than blindly accepting someone else’s statement that they’re trust-worthy. More often than not, if someone says they’re trust-worthy, we double-check their references.

So how do we build trust within a team?

Lyssa Adkins is promoting a hashtag on Twitter - #vulnerabilitytrust - this is my motivator for this column. She wants to see how and when agile teams build trust, and acknowledges that much of it has to do with how and when we show vulnerability.

I must admit, I’ve been feeling vulnerable writing this article (those of you who write regularly may understand). This piece just has not flowed. My colleagues who usually just provide a few minor modifications helped me see what was wrong. I didn’t put myself into the writing. I was going through the motions, noting what one expert says on how to build trust, and listing a few of the results from the Twitter hashtag.  But I didn’t talk about me. I didn’t show my vulnerability. So I’m trying again.

How do we build trust within a team?

My answer? I start with trust.

When I work with you, I start out by trusting you. You don’t have to earn my trust at the start. I will share with you what I know and what I don’t know. I will let you know what I’ve seen that’s worked and what hasn’t worked. I will even talk about how I haven’t been able to figure something out, and perhaps you’ll be able to solve it.

And I will expect you to do the same.

I expect that trust to be reciprocated. I expect honesty and dependability. A little humor never hurts either.

Now, you may lose my trust, depending how you respond to my vulnerability. Because, through this open communication, I have shown you where my faults lie. You may realize that I’m not as strong a developer as you, or that I have some really odd personality quirks.  If trust is lost, we’ll have to figure out how to rebuild the relationship, and how to re-establish that trust, perhaps starting with an element of the trust that didn’t get lost.

Patrick Lencioni notes that trust takes courage. I agree.